shifterMy first car was an automatic. Growing up, my parents had quite a few American musclecars that served as our sole family haulers.  All of them were automatics. I still distinctly remember the first time I experienced some fast upshifts of a 4-speed manual. I was 14, and riding shotgun in a blue 1978 Camaro Z/28, with a neighborhood kid that was a couple years older. I remember being intoxicated by the sound of that car, winding out each gear, and chirping the tires. Thinking back to when we were kids, we could all mimic the sounds of a racecar passing by. Did you ever notice that none of us would imitate the sounds of an automatic car? Because even as kids, we inherently knew that manuals were cooler, and had more character.

My second car was a manual.  It wasn’t much of a car, just a used 4-cylinder Nissan that I bought to commute back and forth to college. I decided that I wanted to learn how to drive a manual, so I taught myself. This being my only car, I basically had to force myself to learn on the way home from the dealership. As months passed, after stalling a few times, and learning routes to and from my destinations by avoiding hills, I began to shift like it was second nature. I found it interesting that I was able to drive somewhere, yet upon arrival I’d have no recollection about having shifted the car to get there. In true racecar driver wannabe fashion, I occasionally practiced shifting a little quicker than necessary, just to learn the efficiencies of how a clutch and shifter worked together. Ever since then, I’ve always had at least one manual vehicle in my possession. Some fast, some slow, it didn’t matter. I enjoy driving them more than any automatic cars I’ve owned.

Many times online, we’ll find heated debates about “stick vs auto”. Both sides will tout examples of why one is seemingly better than the other. Some will joke that masculinity is tied to shifting gears manually. Others will claim that millisecond automatic shift times are essential to quickness and consistency. For some automatic drivers, perhaps they accept that they do not have the skills to max out the performance of a vehicle that has a gate pattern. Or, maybe the car they love isn’t available in a manual, such as the Nissan GT-R, 991 911 Porsche, or Ferrari 458. Both sides have valid points, and each person has their own reason for selecting their choice.

My personal reason is that I enjoy challenging myself, as a driver. I want to be the best driver that I can be, and improve my skillset in that arena. Think of the many hours, months, and years that each of us spends on trying to hone any craft or talent. For me, driving a car quickly down a drag strip, or around a road course, is that craft. I do not consider simply holding a steering wheel as mastering the art of driving. The adrenaline rush I get, when I execute a perfect upshift in a split second, feeling in total control of the engine and drivetrain, is difficult to explain to someone who doesn’t crave this. Likewise, nailing a heel-toe downshift as you enter a fast curve, without disrupting the balance of a car, also brings a sly smile inside of that helmet. When an automatic car wins a race, people compliment the performance of the car itself. When a manual car wins a race against an automatic, people compliment the driver.  Just as in the world outside of cars, craftsmen still tend to be recognized by their talents, not by things done automatically for them.

In these modern times, people are always trying to innovate and remove the human factor out of things. To avoid human error, and to increase precision, more and more things are becoming automated. Seeing the concept cars that boast about not requiring any driver input at all, makes me sad. I wonder how exciting the lives are, of the people who would design or campaign such a vehicle. No doubt, those people likely haven’t experienced the freedom that comes with owning and driving a vehicle, and being able to venture out wherever you want to go. They were likely raised around boring automatic commuting appliances, and mass transit systems. Maybe someday, cars won’t even have a brake pedal, or an accelerator pedal. You’ll just speak or type a destination and it will drive you there. I dread that day, as a car enthusiast and racer. Giving up the manual transmission is hard enough, as evidenced by fewer new sports cars being offered with such. I suppose when all performance cars become automatics, I’ll just stick to the classics.